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Sunday, September 14, 2008

Federal Judge Suspended On Misconduct Charges

Federal Judge Suspended On Misconduct Charges
The Wall Street Journal by NATHAN KOPPEL -  September 13, 2008; Page A4

A panel of federal judges suspended U.S. District Judge G. Thomas Porteous Jr. of New Orleans for two years for alleged misconduct, a severe punishment that may lead to a move in Congress to remove him from the bench through impeachment. In a decision handed down this past week, the Judicial Council of the Fifth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals declared that Judge Porteous had "brought disrepute to the federal judiciary." The alleged misconduct included failing to report gifts from lawyers who appeared before him and concealing debts while in personal bankruptcy. Suspension of any length is rare in a system in which judges are largely investigated by their peers, and a punishment of two years is highly unusual, experts said. "This is probably the most severe punishment ever imposed by the federal bench against a fellow judge," said Arthur Hellman, a judicial-ethics expert at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law.

Judge Porteous didn't return a call seeking comment. Lewis Unglesby, the judge's attorney, said the suspension is unwarranted. "I don't think you'll find a single person who says Judge Porteous wasn't fair in any single case he tried," Mr. Unglesby said. The circuit court's decision comes when the federal bench is under great scrutiny for misbehavior. Last month, another U.S. district judge, Samuel Kent of Houston, was indicted on charges that he had sexually abused a court employee, which he has denied. The federal bench adopted procedures this year aimed at more thoroughly investigating judicial-misconduct complaints. The rules were a response in part to complaints that federal judges, who enjoy life tenure, aren't sufficiently accountable for ethical lapses. The only other option for punishing misconduct is the removal of judge though impeachment, a rare act that has been successful only seven times in U.S. history. The House Judiciary Committee said in June it was weighing whether to begin impeaching Judge Porteous. The committee, which didn't return requests to comment Friday, hasn't held impeachment hearings, and Congress is due to adjourn shortly. "Common sense tells me nothing will happen in this congressional session," said Mr. Unglesby, the judge's attorney. The 62-year-old judge was appointed to the bench in 1994 by President Bill Clinton.

Along with its reprimand, the Fifth Circuit unsealed investigative reports detailing alleged transgressions by Judge Porteous. After incurring gambling debts, the judge filed for bankruptcy in 2001 under a fictitious name to save himself embarrassment, according to a 2007 report by a Fifth Circuit investigative committee. The judge was warned not to incur more debt while in bankruptcy yet ran up thousands of dollars in undisclosed gambling debts at casinos in Louisiana and Mississippi, the report said. These alleged infractions were investigated by a bankruptcy judge who didn't take action, said Mr. Unglesby. The Judicial Conference of the United States, a policy-making body for federal courts, also has investigated Judge Porteous. In a June report, released by the Fifth Circuit, the Judicial Conference concluded the judge had solicited and received gifts from lawyers, including, "cash payments, numerous lunches, payments for travel, meals, and hotel rooms in Las Vegas." The judge failed to disclose the gifts, according to the report, and used methods of payment that left no paper trail, including once dispatching his secretary to pick up an envelope of cash. "There's no prohibition in law or practice, which prevents judges from socializing with their friends," Mr. Unglesby said about the alleged gifts. "Big deal. I pay today; you pay tomorrow." Write to Nathan Koppel at nathan.koppel@wsj.com

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Sacrifice one to protect all the others. Just as the Joker did with his accomplices.

Anonymous said...

I can think of a few chumps in the 2nd Circuit that could use a little suspension.

former federal judge said...

there should be complete investigation of all judges every three to four years since they have a lifetime tenure. The investigation should be done by an independent non-governmental entity, otherwise a conflict could arise.

victim of judge said...

the Judge was Suspended on Misconduct Charges......what's going onhere......this jerk should be fired......let him appeal and see how the illegal system screws him around......who cares if he was a Judge......so what, all citizens are suspose to be equal.

A_D_Jackson said...

National Judicial Conduct and Disability Law Project has long been interested in legal and judicial reform www.njcdlp.org . It helped sponsor the Citizens’ Forum on Judicial Accountability held on May 15, 2008 on Capitol Hill which dealt with judicial accountability, judicial misconduct, and similar matters. The Citizens’ Forum will issue a Report to Congress when the new Congress takes office in January 2009.

Another outcome of the Forum is the internet radio show “Change of Venue” which airs every two weeks. It has already featured discussions on judicial independence, misconduct, accountability, and some proposed remedies. More information is available on the webpage www.njcdlp.org/Change_of_Venue.html
I don't know this judge from Adam, but one would hope that the media woud act more like a watchdog of the courts and publish similar stories sooner and more often.

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